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Los Angeles goes after Vegas hospital for dumping 1500 patients

Published time: May 20, 2013 18:43

The city of Los Angeles is pursuing a criminal investigation of a psychiatric hospital in Las Vegas, which has allegedly put 1,500 patients on buses and sent them out of state over the past five years.

About one third of these patients, some of which were homeless, were given one-way bus tickets to cities in California. About 200 of the 1,500 mentally ill patients were sent to Los Angeles County, 150 of whom arrived in downtown L.A. Since 2008, patients were bused to cities in every continental US state, even though some had no family, friends or housing at their destination. After the Sacramento Bee published an exposé on the dumping practices of the Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital, the city of Los Angeles announced it would launch a probe investigating the matter.

“It’s just an abhorrent practice,” Gil Cedhillo, a candidate for the L.A. City Council and a former state senator, told the Bee. “You can’t just take someone from a facility and dump them downtown.”

L.A. has one of the strictest patient-dumping laws in the US, which was adopted in 2007 after a homeless schizophrenic was found walking the streets in his hospital gown while still connected to a catheter bag.

The Bee obtained bus receipts from the Nevada Division of Mental Health and Developmental Services and found that the hospital sent its patients away on Greyhound buses, equipped with a small supply of medication and several bottles of a nutritional supplement that only lasted a few days.

Health officials claim that most of the patients were sent off to cities where they had a place to stay, but the Bee discovered several cases in which mentally ill patients were forced to go to cities that they had no connection to.

James Flavy Coy Brown, a 48-year-old homeless man who had received treatment at Rawson-Neal, was put on a bus that dropped him off in Sacramento – even though he had never been there and knew no one in the city.

The former psychosis patient had only been treated for three days before doctors sent him out of state, despite his protests.

“I said, ‘I don’t want to leave Nevada,’” Brown told ABC News. “[The doctor] said, ‘California sounds like a really nice state. I think you’ll be happy there.’”

Equipped with a $306 one-way bus ticket, six Ensure nutrition shake bottles, and a three-day supply of psychiatric medications, he was sent away, only to end up on the streets of Sacramento – without medication. The man had no Social Security card, food stamp card or Medicaid card, and checked into a homeless shelter, feeling the effects of medication withdrawal and the return of his psychosis.

“If I don’t take my medicine, I get really confused and I start hearing voices in my head, and they tell me to, like, jump off a bridge or to do something to purposefully get arrested or go to prison or jail,” he said.  

The Bee claims that as a result of its initial exposé last month, the hospital modified its procedures to require dispatched patients to be accompanied by a chaperone when bused out of state. In response to the investigations, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval also said that state officials have implemented a new policy that requires at least two physicians and a hospital administrator to approve a dispatch order – rather than just one physician.

Still, the Joint Commission, an independent agency that certifies US hospitals, is considering pulling Rawson-Neal’s accreditation for its history of patient-dumping. The city attorneys in L.A. and San Francisco have also launched probes into the hospital’s practices. If the allegations are true, Rawson-Neal would lose federal funding and face steep financial penalties.

L.A. City Attorney Carmen Trutanich and his team are currently scouting out former patients to see if they were released in violation of the city’s ordinance against patient-dumping.

“This is 150 people allegedly on the streets of L.A.,” Trutanich said, referencing the number of mentally ill patients that the hospital sent to the city. “We’re already stretched as it is.”

But if Rawson-Neal is found guilty, the hospital could be convicted of a criminal misdemeanor and charged a hefty fine.